DUIs and Public Vehicular Areas

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Most Raleigh DWIs involve driving on a street or highway. North Carolina, like most states, criminalizes impaired driving that occurs on any street or highway, including streets or highways that may be “private” but be used by the public in general.

But what if drunk driving is alleged to have occurred in a driveway, parking lot, or in a parking garage? North Carolina also criminalizes driving while impaired that has occurred in those locations as well.

The seminal case in this area is State v. Snyder 468 SE 2d 221 (1996), a North Carolina Supreme Court case involving a DWI that occurred in the parking lot of a private nightclub. The Defendant argued that, because the lot was a private lot and because the public were, in some sense, restricted from the club, that the area was not a Public Vehicular Area and that the person had not committed a DWI.

The Supreme Court rejected that argument:

Finally, in construing the statutory language, “`we are guided by the primary rule that the intent of the legislature controls.’” State v. Carawan, 80 N.C.App. 151, 153, 341 S.E.2d 96, 97 (quoting State v. Spencer, 276 N.C. 535, 546, 173 S.E.2d 765, 773 (1970)), disc. rev. denied, 317 N.C. 337, 346 S.E.2d 141 (1986). The legislature clearly intended to protect persons from the dangers posed by others who drive while they are impaired within any area where there is public vehicular traffic.

It’s important to note that the North Carolina legislature broadened the definition of a PVA in 2006 at NCGS Sec. 20-4.01:

Public Vehicular Area. – Any area within the State of North Carolina that meets one or more of the following requirements:

a. The area is used by the public for vehicular traffic at any time, including by way of illustration and not limitation any drive, driveway, road, roadway, street, alley, or parking lot upon the grounds and premises of any of the following:

1. Any public or private hospital, college, university, school, orphanage, church, or any of the institutions, parks or other facilities maintained and supported by the State of North Carolina or any of its subdivisions.

2. Any service station, drive?in theater, supermarket, store, restaurant, or office building, or any other business, residential, or municipal establishment providing parking space whether the business or establishment is open or closed.

3. Any property owned by the United States and subject to the jurisdiction of the State of North Carolina. (The inclusion of property owned by the United States in this definition shall not limit assimilation of North Carolina law when applicable under the provisions of Title 18, United States Code, section 13).

b. The area is a beach area used by the public for vehicular traffic.

c. The area is a road used by vehicular traffic within or leading to a gated or non?gated subdivision or community, whether or not the subdivision or community roads have been offered for dedication to the public.

d. The area is a portion of private property used by vehicular traffic and designated by the private property owner as a public vehicular area in accordance with G.S. 20?219.4.

Shea Denning has a much more thorough post on PVAs and DWIs in North Carolina.

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